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Roger Rapoport, McClatchy-Tribune News Service , Published July 12 2012

Summer’s family films make money — so why aren’t there more of them?

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Summer time, kids are out of school and parents are eager to escape the heat and enjoy a family friendly film with a large popcorn.

But at Goodrich Quality Theaters here, marketing director Kelly Owens looks down the major studio release schedule for her 30 Midwestern theaters and is surprised by the “lack of family movies. Between now and Aug. 15 all we’ve got coming are ‘Ice Age,’ ‘The Diary of A Wimpy Kid’ and ‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green.’”

Like exhibitors around the country watching the success of R-rated fare such as foul-mouthed “Ted” and male stripper film “Magic Mike,” Owens realizes that these films and movies such as “‘The Hangover,’ ‘Bridesmaids,’ ‘Jackass’ and ‘Saw’ have a solid audience and make money. As an exhibitor we don’t want Hollywood to stop making them.”

At the same time, she says “movies that go R obviously don’t do as well as PG-13. You never know, if they toned down a few scenes and got a PG they would they have made another $20 million?”

A keen student on this issue is Dick Rolfe, head of the Grand Rapids-based Dove Foundation, which helps parents, kids, schools, churches and other groups find “family friendly” content.

In a new study, Dove – which provides online movie and video reviews – found that of the top 1,000 films released between 2005 and 2009, Hollywood produced “11 times as many R films as G.”

G-rated films showed an average profit of $108.5 million, PG came in at $65.5 million, PG-13 films earned $59.7 million and R-rated films averaged just $12.7 million.

For Rolfe, the irony is that just 3 percent of all films released are rated G, while only 13 percent are rated PG. While Hollywood has dramatically increased production of PG-13 films (41 percent of the market, up from 28 percent in 2005) Rolfe is quick to point out that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) “now allows content in PG-13 films that was formerly only allowed in R films.”

Dove-approved films that lack objectionable content such as “sex, violence, swearing and drug use” average a profit of $90.8 million compared with an industry per film average of $36.3 million.

In the Chicago area, Shirley Johnson, chief operating officer of the 13-theater Classic Cinemas circuit, says G and PG films also are a big help at a major theater profit center: the concession stand. “Younger family audiences eat more popcorn and buy more drinks. Our older customers who ask us for more art films, which we like to show, are trying to avoid salt and carbonation.”

But Johnson also notes that the PG-13 and R films pull in more regular moviegoers, particularly groups that flock to features like “Twilight.”

Brock Bagby , a 22-year-old research analyst at the B and B theater chain in Liberty, Kan., say that ribald R-rated comedies are especially popular in new locations like Ozark, Mo., where a restaurant/ bar at the theater broadens the marketplace.

“On ‘Magic Mike’ we had grandmothers, moms and daughters coming together. It sold out all weekend. Personally I think there is room for all kinds of movies. “

But Mabel Tan, vice president of film for Los Angeles’ Landmark Theatres, says:

“These stories about hit films like ‘Ted’ and ‘Magic Mike’ tend to overlook the fact that both movies slid after strong opening nights, particularly ‘Magic Mike.’ I wouldn’t call this a big new trend.”

Also overlooked is the fact that other R ribald comedies this summer such as Sacha Baron Cohen’s “The Dictator” and Adam Sandler’s “That’s My Boy” were disappointments. Tan adds that there’s not another big R-rated comedy due until “The Watch” arrives in late July.

Dove Foundation’s Rolfe argues that the case for more R-rated comedies has yet to be made convincingly: “The real explanation for the slow summer release of G and PG films for families during the summer holiday season is the filmmakers themselves. It used to be that 60 to 65 percent of revenue was theatrical. Now it’s closer to 35 to 40 percent. A lot of filmmakers who want to make G and PG films are going direct to cable because those networks pay you outright and they promote to their audiences by putting up all the advertising themselves.”